Palm Sunday — Sorrow

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The Palm Sunday Gospel for April 17, 2011 covers the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, and Jesus’ Passion and death (Matthew 26:14-27).  This Gospel covers all the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.  There is just so much in this Gospel it is almost a shame that we read it all at once instead of breaking it up over several Masses.  But just because you read the Gospel straight through during Mass does not mean you cannot meditate more on it yourself.  Take your time in this last week leading up to Easter to really absorb the central themes behind the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.  Meditate on Christ’s Passion and death and thank Him for all he does for us.

I know that many times we walk into the church on Palm Sunday and it hits us that this is that LONG Mass and we develop a bitterness because the Mass might run longer than an hour.  Try not to think about how long the Mass is or how it seems to upset your plans for the day.  That extra time should be seen as a gift, not a burden.  Use that time to focus on all Jesus does for us and what He asks us to live.  Jesus sacrificed His life for us so the least we can do is spend a few extra minutes with Him in prayer.

I encourage you to read my postings on the Sorrowful Mysteries throughout this week.  Think about the quantity and quality of your prayers when you read the First Sorrowful Mystery — The Agony in the Garden.  Pray for all those who suffer, especially those who suffer because they strayed from God’s path, when meditating on Jesus’ Scourging in the Second Sorrowful Mystery.  Ask yourself how much respect you give to Jesus and His Church in the Third Sorrowful Mystery — The Crowning of Thorns.  Look around at the crosses other bare and see if you can help them any way you can when you think of Jesus taking up His cross in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery.  And finally, follow Jesus’ example in His crucifixion and ask God for the strength to do His Will no matter where that takes you.

Make the most of Holy Week.  Do not treat it like every other week of the year but really make an effort to turn it into a time of more intense prayer and meditation.  God Bless!

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Gospel for April 10, 2011 — Eternity

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The Gospel for April 10, 2011 is John 11:1-45. In this Gospel, Jesus performs the miracle of raising His friend, Lazarus, from the dead.  This Gospel foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection which we pray in the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  Both this rosary mystery and the Gospel remind us that there is more to our existence than this earthly life.  God’s divine plan for all of us does not end with the death of our physical bodies.  His plan also includes our souls living for all eternity in His heavenly kingdom.

News flash, we all have a terminal illness.  I do not want to be a downer, but we all had this illness from the we were conceived.  Our terminal condition is our earthly existence.  No one will physically live forever.  But we should not despair as Jesus said this in the Gospel:

This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

While Jesus was referring to Lazarus, He might as well have spoken about the human condition and our mortality.  None of our lives will end in death if we define death to be a transition to nothingness.  Instead our souls will live for all eternity.  We should recognize that reality and adjust our lives by avoiding sin and doing good works.

In addition to our final, physical death we also encounter little deaths throughout our lives.  I refer to the death of our relationship with God when we commit mortal sin.  When we sever ourselves from God’s grace our soul experiences a type of spiritual death.  However, like how Jesus physically raised Lazarus from the dead, the Holy Spirit raises our soul from its death through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Our return to God’s grace is just as miraculous, and I would say vastly more important, as if Jesus raised us physically from the dead as He did with Lazarus.  Especially in this period of Lent, it is so critically important to do a little spiritual spring cleaning of our souls and go to confession.  We all should experience the miracle of God rising our souls from their spiritual sleep.  And we must pray for all those in this world who are spiritually dead through sin that they have the courage and humility to return to God’s grace.

In this Gospel reading Lazarus’ rise from the dead foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection.  We remember Jesus’ resurrection in the First Glorious Mystery of the rosary.  One of the central themes of this mystery is that our physical death is not the end of us.  Rather, it is just the beginning of a new life either in Heaven or in Hell.  I believe that our spiritual life is actually our real life as it is eternal.  Our life here on earth, even if we live one hundred or more years, is nothing compared to eternity.  So which existence is really the one where we live as our true self?  Our current, temporary, and imperfect life or the eternal existence in the afterlife?  When we pray the rosary, think about this Gospel, and meditate on Jesus’ resurrection may we remember to make the most of this short time we have in this life by being a testament to the glory of God.  God desires all of us to be with Him in Heaven.  Through Jesus’ resurrection, He showed us that there is so much more to our existence than what we experience in this world.  Let us not become so obsessed and consumed by all the material wants of this life as they will all one day disappear.  Instead, we  should pray that we can endure and reject the temptations of this world and live for the greater goal of an eternity of joy and happiness in Heaven.

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Gospel for April 3, 2011 — Judgement

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The Gospel for April 3, 2011 is John 9:1-41 (yep, it is a long one).  Jesus angers the pharisees by healing a blind man on the Sabbath.  The high priests are outraged because they see Jesus as someone who undermines their authority and performs miracles without their approval.  But Jesus says that He came to open the eyes of the spiritually blind while also blinding those who see through a lens of self-righteousness like the pharisees.  We remember in The Second Glorious Mystery of the rosary, The Ascension, that Jesus will one day judge us and so we must not be blind to His teachings.

The pharisees question nearly all of Jesus’ miracles throughout the Gospel and the healing of the blind man is no different.  They throw out the usual accusations — Jesus must derive His power from Satan or that He is not sent from God since He disobeys the Mosaic laws.  Each time the pharisees question Jesus they end up embarrassing themselves as Jesus points out the flaws to their blind adherence to the Mosaic Law. You would think they would have learned their lesson the first couple of times Jesus set them straight.  By interrogating the blind man, his family, and Jesus we get a sense of the pharisees’ growing frustration with Jesus since He threatens their authority.  Like modern-day politicians, the pharisees’ goal is not to show God’s truth but keep as much earthly power as possible.

Jesus’ response to the pharisees’ criticism is found in verses 39-41:

Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”  Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin;  but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

We see like the pharisees in that we know the truth of Jesus’ divine nature.  We know Jesus’ will through the teachings and traditions of the Church, the Bible, in prayer, and the natural law written on each of our hearts.  God gave us the law through Moses and completed that law through Jesus Christ.  And yet, despite making His will known to us we often disobey Him through sin.  As Jesus implies in the Gospel, our sin remains because we can see the difference between right and wrong but we choose to sin anyway.  We look at the silliness of the great lengths the pharisees went to to discredit Jesus.  And yet we too go through great lengths to sidestep living according to Jesus’ teachings.  If you think about all that Jesus, the saints, and prophets have revealed to us about God’s will we also look very silly when we choose to sin in the face of all that knowledge.

We often take a self-righteous view of ourselves and believe that God approves of all that we do in life.  Like the pharisees, we holler and yell when the Church tells us that our world view conflicts the truth of Jesus Christ.  We shout, “How dare you say abortion is evil!”  Or, “The Church’s teachings are so out of touch regarding premarital sex!”  To many, the idea that we must humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation seems draconian.  No one likes being told they are wrong or punished for bad behavior.  But instead of avoiding bad behavior we seem to go out of our way to redefine what is bad and what is good.   We try very hard to make God conform to our worldview instead of changing our worldview to fit God’s plan.   Do we see that we are like the pharisees in the Gospel when we argue and rebel against God’s teachings instead of embracing them?

Jesus said in the Gospel that He came into this world for judgement.  We remember Jesus’ coming judgement when we pray the Second Glorious Mystery.  He ascended into Heaven to judge the living and the dead.  Jesus will judge us based on His divine law.  That judgement may be harsh since we have knowledge of His laws and yet chose not to follow Him.  Remember, because we can see God’s truth, our sins remain.  God will not care whether something was legal in some worldly court.  He does not care about popular opinion.  And so, an important goal in life should be following God’s laws because in the end, that is how He will judge us.  When you pray the Second Glorious Mystery of the rosary acknowledge that we are all subject to God’s judgement one day.  And may that knowledge translate into the courage to live according to God’s will by avoiding sin.  Pray that we can humble ourselves and admit when we do stray from God’s path and embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially in this period of Lent.

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Gospel for March 27, 2011 — Eternity

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The Gospel for March 27, 2011 is from John 4:5-42 where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well.  Jesus talks about how He offers water from which someone will never thirst and He has food the world has never known.  One interpretation of Jesus’ words is that He is talking about His body and blood found in the Eucharist which we pray about in the Fifth Luminous Mystery of the rosary.  The Eucharist provides us spiritual energy so that we have the power to focus on what should be the goal of our lives — to one day live in eternal happiness in Heaven.

Jesus compares physical bread and water to spiritual ones.  He explains that when people consume physical bread and water they will be hungry and thirsty again.  But spiritual bread and water are eternally sustaining.  But Jesus is not just talking about being hungry or thirsty.  Jesus essentially compares all our physical wants and needs against our spiritual ones.  It is too often that we tend to focus on our physical needs and neglect our spiritual side.  For example, many of us spend so much time and energy handling finances, world events, politics, social problems, family issues, and work anxieties.  But how often do we focus on our relationship with God?  Do we only give Him one hour a week at Mass if that?  And yet, how much more important is our spiritual health considering that it will determine whether we will spend all eternity in the happiness of Heaven or suffer the misery of Hell?  And even when we do focus on our spiritual needs, do we have the energy and courage to follow the Holy Spirit and do what is right?

Unfortunately, we often are not even putting our physical needs in front of our spiritual ones.  More often, we put physical wants ahead of everything.  We focus on our jobs and finances, not to provide for ourselves and our dependants, but for our wants.  We work for iPods and iPads, expensive clothes, flat screen TVs, movies, and smart phones.  And while none of these are inherently bad (we all need ways to relax), problems arise when we put those wants in front of our spiritual needs.  Like the women in the Gospel who had five husbands, we often live in pursuit of moments of temporary happiness.  We can probably picture this Samaritan woman choosing husbands for all the wrong reasons and getting involved with people mostly because they provided her with some short-term happiness.  But like many things rooted in worldly happiness, they are shallow and it is not long before we crave something newer, different, and better.

In contrast to what this world can provide, Jesus offers us eternal happiness.  But to obtain that we have to look past the temporary joys of this world even if that means temporary suffering.  Unfortunately, many times we lose site of that long term goal of Heaven and settle for shallow, temporary happiness.  Our challenge is to see past our temporary wants and live for eternal joy.  After all, what’s 80, 90, or 100+ years of life compared to an eternity of love and happiness?

Life is basically a much longer and tougher Marshmallow Test.  Watch the video below and notice how difficult it is for the children to forgo the smaller reward (one marshmallow) and wait for a larger one (two marshmallows).  Yes it is humorous to watch and wonder why it is so difficult for kids to wait for a better reward.  But as adults we really are not any better.  Instead of marshmallows, we often settle for worldly happiness at the expense of eternal joy.  We so easily accept what the world offers even when it goes against our faith.  We do this because it makes our life easier, makes us popular, and avoids confrontation.  It is amazing how we so easily throw away that grace through sin or just not putting a lot of effort into growing our spiritual endurance.

The Eucharist gives us the spiritual energy we need to live for the long term goal of eternal joy in God’s Heavenly kingdom.  That is why we should receive it with a heart and mind focused on doing Jesus’ will.  If we truly have the desire to live in God’s grace then the Holy Spirit will show us the way and the Eucharist will provide us the energy.  When you pray The Fifth Luminous Mystery of the rosary meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel.  Ask yourself, are you living for the temporary happiness of this world at the expense of eternal joy?  This week and throughout Lent may we all pray for the strength to focus on what’s really important — living for God’s Kingdom of Heaven.

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Gospel for March 20, 2011 – Hear Him

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The Gospel for March 20, 2011 is from Matthew 17:1-9.  It is about The Transfiguration which is also the Fourth Luminous Mystery.  There is not much more I can add beyond what I already wrote about this mystery of the rosary.  I want to point out that this Gospel not only connects to this mystery, but it also connects to the Gospel for January 9, 1979 on Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan.  In both cases, God reminds us through a booming voice in the sky that Jesus is His son and that we should listen to Him.  In this time of Lent, may we focus on listening to Jesus’ message, not because He is a prophet with some good ideas, but because Jesus is God made man.  May we hear Him in prayer and find the strength to always do His will.

Sometimes showing strength to to God’s will is more than avoiding sin.  For many of us, it might take just as much strength and courage to open our wallets to those who are in desperate need of help as it is to not avoid the temptation to do evil.  This Lent, we have much opportunity to be a Good Samaritan to those who are in need and I urge you to help however you can.  I am fond of Catholic Relief Services who are always responding to the major disasters around this world.

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Gospel for March 13, 2011 – Comfort

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The Gospel for Sunday, March 6, 2011 is from Matthew 4:1-11.  In this Gospel, Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert for 40 days before rejecting Satan’s temptations.  Tired, hungry, and physically weak Jesus had the strength to reject evil.  Jesus shows this same spiritual endurance during His Passion, especially in the scourging at the pillar which we remember when we pray the Second Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary.  May we learn that we too have the strength to endure life’s challenges and that we will find comfort in Heaven after we reject evil in this life.

“Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (Matthew 4:11)  To me, this is the most interesting verse in this Gospel reading.  The fact that angels needed to minster to Jesus after the 40 days in the desert shows just how difficult that ordeal really was.  I think many of us have this idea that because Jesus is God made man and performed many miracles that spending 40 fasting must not have been very hard for Him.  With that mindset we cannot relate with how Jesus faced life’s challenges and think it is unfair that He asks so much of us.  After all, how are we to imitate Jesus without the advantage of being superhuman?  But since angels needed to comfort Him shows us that certain aspects of life were no easier for Jesus than they are for the rest of us.

Like the challenges Jesus faced in His 40 days in the desert, the Second Sorrowful Mystery shows us the great hardship Jesus endured during The Passion.  Jesus felt pain and suffering when scourged at the pillar as any of us would.  But His faith in God gave Him the strength to persevere that torment.  Likewise, our faith tells us that we have the same strength to endure hardship in this life.  We have every opportunity to imitate Jesus by remaining faithful despite life’s challenges.  As much as we would like to be spared hardship in this life, chances are that our physical and spiritual limits will be tested at some point whether that be illness, a tragic accident, or a crisis of faith.  But this rosary mystery shows us that we all have the God-given ability to overcome any challenge and endure any hardship as Jesus did during His scourging.

May we remember that, like Jesus after His 40 days in the desert and all the pain and suffering He encountered in The Sorrowful Mysteries, we too will find joy and comfort in Heaven.  In fact, the comfort that Jesus offers us will so dwarf our earthly suffering that it will make the worst times in our life feel like a momentary itch.  But we also must remember that this consolation only comes to those who live according to God’s will.  Remember, the angels ministered to Jesus only after He rejected the temptations of the devil.  Likewise, we will find true joy and happiness once we reject Satan’s false promises and evils in this world.  Especially in this season of Lent, as we prepare for Easter through fasting and prayer, may we remember that God gave us the gift to overcome any challenge this world has to offer.  Let us remember to use this gift when we face difficult challenges in our lives.

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Our Lady’s Messages: February 2011

The Virgin Mary’s February, 2011 messages focus on perfecting prayer and working towards converting our hearts and minds toward God.  Mary offers Her assistance to anyone who asks for it.

Our Lady’s message to Mirjana Soldo on February 2, 2011

Dear children; You are gathering around me, you are seeking your way, you are seeking, you are seeking the truth but are forgetting what is the most important, you are forgetting to pray properly. Your lips pronounce countless words, but your spirit does not feel anything. Wandering in darkness, you even imagine God Himself according to yourselves, and not such as He really is in His love. Dear children, proper prayer comes from the depth of your heart, from your suffering, from your joy, from your seeking the forgiveness of sins. This is the way to come to know the right God and by that also yourselves, because you are created according to Him. Prayer will bring you to the fulfillment of my desire, of my mission here with you, to the unity in God’s family. Thank you.

Mary’s message does not focus on any particular mystery of the rosary, but praying the rosary in general.  I know that many of us have a difficult time remaining focused while praying.  We tend to go into “auto pilot” where we recite the words of the prayers but think about other things.  I know that I often start thinking about scenes from movies, television shows, or something else I saw or heard.  Or, thinking about an intention I have may inadvertently sidetrack me.  I might begin a decade by praying for all those driving to work; that they remain safe in their travels.  I then start thinking about my car.  “When did I last take it in for service?  What did the mechanic find?  How much did he charge me?  What’s that squealing noise?  I should remember to have that checked out.”  And the next thing I know, I’ve blown through the entire decade without even realizing it.

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Mary asks us to really focus on the quality of our prayer.  I’ve mentioned this before about trying to find perfect prayer.  Here’s a tip when you find yourself mindlessly reciting words — STOP PRAYING! Take a few seconds to clear your mind of those distracting thoughts.  Then pick up that rosary and start praying again with renewed focus.  Possibly that day just is not a good day for focused prayer.  There’s no shame in realizing that you are too distracted to really give God your full attention.  Just resolve that you will try again later with renewed vigor.  If Mary’s tone in Her message is any indication, I think God prefers one sincere prayer over one hundred mindless recitations.

Our Lady’s message on February 25, 2011

Dear children! Nature is awakening and on the trees the first buds are seen which will bring most beautiful flowers and fruit. I desire that you also, little children, work on your conversion and that you be those who witness with their life, so that your example may be a sign and an incentive for conversion to others. I am with you and before my Son Jesus I intercede for your conversion. Thank you for having responded to my call.

Mary asks us to act as a “sign and an incentive for conversion to others” by the example we set.  The Gospel from February 6, 2011 echos that same sentiment when Jesus asks us to be a light to the world of His love and goodness.  Mary asks us to focus on our conversion by walking the path Jesus lays before us instead of the one the world shows us.  I know that Jesus’ path can look difficult and scary at times.  He puts down a pretty grand challenge by asking us to be perfect.

The good news is that we do not travel that path alone.  Mary, through The Assumption, offers Her assistance.  She looks down from Heaven to help us walk that road.  She gave us the rosary, one of the strongest prayer tools in our spiritual arsenal.  She gives us messages in the form of apparitions to steer us in the right direction.  She spends all Her time an energy trying to put as many of us on the right path towards Heaven and She will never be too busy to help those who need it.  So take up that challenge of praying and living perfectly as Jesus asks.  You will never achieve perfection (after all, we are imperfect beings), but you will be a much better person and deeper in God’s grace than if you never tried at all.

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Gospel for February 27, 2011 — Choices

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The Gospel for February 27, 2011 is from Matthew 6:24-34.  Jesus tells us not to put the riches of this world in front of the majesty of Heaven.  He says, “No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  He then asks us to put our faith in Him and not worry so much about acquiring earthly possessions.  The Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary echos this same theme when Jesus asks us to put living for God’s Kingdom before our earthly one.

Jesus’ statements in this Gospel lead to a lot of confusion.  Why is He telling us not to worry about what we will eat, drink, wear, or live?  Don’t we have to work and earn a living so that we have a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear?  After all, I don’t think He wants us to be homeless and dieing of starvation.  I don’t think Jesus is calling for a total collapse of society because no one needs to put in a hard day’s work.  Or is Jesus telling us we do not have to work at all and God will just give us everything we want on account of our faith in Him?

Any reader of this blog or the Gospel obviously knows that Jesus isn’t literally telling us not to work.  Jesus understands that we need to work and provide for ourselves and others.  He is not telling us to be slothful and just await for God to “bail us out.”  Jesus’ main point is that our earthly pursuits should not be the focal point of our lives.  We should work, but not solely for the earthly wealth and power.  As in the Third Luminous Mystery of the rosary, Jesus asks us to live for His Heavenly kingdom of Heaven first.  He asks us to convert from our native, earthly focus and orient ourselves towards God.  We do this by consciously making a clean start with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, praying more, and really letting the Holy Spirit guide us through life.

According to the Gospel, God will provide for us.  Note that Jesus does not say that our faith will give us an easy life free of burden and responsibility.  This is not what Jesus meant by providing.  Just look at many of the saints.  Their lives were not easy.  Many of them were persecuted, ignored, hated, and even martyred.  But in the end they were all blessed with eternal happiness because they chose to live for God’s kingdom first.  In the end, God did provide for them with the ultimate gift — Heaven.

We have a choice.  Where are we going to put our priorities?  Are we going to choose living for all the good things of this world or all the great things in Heaven?  We only have so much energy and time in the day so we do have to make a choice.  We cannot live for God’s kingdom by accident.  If we do not explicitly choose to live for God, we naturally tend to drift towards living only for this world.  That means we need to make many small decisions every day to choose God’s love over earthly pursuits.  Do we choose to set aside time for prayer?  Do we go to Sunday Mass and treat it seriously and with respect?  Do we receive the sacraments (particularly Reconciliation)?  Do we go out of our way to avoid sin even if it makes our life harder?  Do we help our brothers and sisters, particularly our enemies or those in need?  Those are just a few  of the choices we need to make that will either bring us closer to God or away from Him.  This week is a good time to pray the rosary, focus on the Third Luminous Mystery, and ask yourself, “Who will you serve?”

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Gospel for February 20, 2011 — Perfection

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The Gospel for February 20, 2011 is Matthew 5:38-48 which follows on the heals of the previous Sunday’s Gospel.  Jesus continues expanding the Mosaic law by challenging people to live to a higher standard.  He says we need to “turn the other cheek” when people hurt us and love our enemies.  Jesus exemplifies this high standard in The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, His Crucifixion, when he asks God to forgive the people who put Him to death.

Jesus’ extensions to the law were tall orders considering the fact that He preached to people who were under Roman occupation and had strict barriers between social groups (Jew, Gentile, Samaritan, etc.).  It was very easy for people at that time to see “the others” as their enemy and seek any retribution when they were harmed.  Jesus asking people to love their enemies must have been a very radical idea and probably was not very well received.  Even today that idea is often preached, but rarely lived.  But Jesus points out that God loves everyone, whether they are Jew or Gentile, and He calls us to do the same.  And if loving your enemy is not difficult enough, Jesus raises the bar even further.  In what almost seems comical, Jesus tells us to “just be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Piece of cake right?

There is no better example of Jesus loving those who hated Him and acting perfectly then when He calls on God to forgive the people who crucified Him for “they know not what they do.”  But the problem many of us have when we read this passage is that we know that Jesus is already perfect.  Many of us may hear Jesus’ teaching of love and forgiveness and probably think, “it’s easy for Him to act perfectly, He’s God!”  So how can we relate to the infinite love and forgivness Jesus showed at His crucifixion?  How do we even begin to live perfectly?

Perfection starts with prayer.  We are aided in our quest for perfection with tools like the Bible, the rosary, priests, nuns, and the entire magistrate of the Catholic Church.  Prayer helps us see Jesus as the example of living perfectly that we try to imitate.  The word imitate is important since we can never be perfect as Jesus is perfect.  We will fall into sin from time to time.  We will not always love our enemies.  We will have grudges and hatred towards one another at times.  But just because we do fall does not give us an excuse never to try at all.  We pray the rosary for guidance, we meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries for strength, and we absorb the readings in the Bible all in trying to understand that perfection that God asks of us.  When we fail to live as Jesus desires, we can wipe the slate clean through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and try again.  And when we think we’ve done just about all we can do, thinking of Jesus nailed on the cross and forgiving the people should motivate us that we can try just a little harder.  And even when we do meet some of our moral limitations as human beings, we are at least closer to that perfection than if we had never tried at all.  But the key to living perfectly is that we have to actively try to live perfectly.  We cannot do it by accident.

Spirituality is a lot like athletics.  Coaches ask for perfection from their players.  Baseball coaches want every player to get a hit and never strike out.  In football, no coach wants to see a dropped pass or his quarterback sacked.  But athletes almost never play a perfect game.  But they give a 100% effort trying the best they can.  Just because they know they won’t play perfectly does not mean they do not try at all.  And so, Jesus calls us to be spiritual athletes.  Like a coach, He wants to see us giving a 100% effort in living according to His Will and building a loving relationship with Him.  It’s time to pick up that rosary or that Bible and give it your all.  It’s game time!

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Gospel for February 13, 2011 — Raising the Bar

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The Gospel for Sunday, February 13, 2011 is from Matthew 5:17-37.  In this reading Jesus extends the Mosaic law on topics such as murder, adultery, divorce, and swearing oaths.  He challenges people to work even harder to have a loving relationship with God.  For example, while the Mosaic law said “thou shalt not kill,” Jesus “raises the bar” saying that you should not even have grudges and be hateful towards others.  Jesus desires that we build up a strong faith that can endure through any of life’s challenges.  He encapsulates this attitude in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery of the rosary, The Carrying of the Cross, as He kept moving towards His crucifixion and eventual resurrection despite the pain and suffering.

Jesus extends the Mosaic law partly because the Jews had grown too complacent following the rules.  They were following each law just for the sake of following them and not so much out of a love of God or to improve themselves.  Like someone who had grown too accustomed to a particular exercise routine, the old laws no longer sufficed for building a strong relationship with God.  As Jesus said later in Matthew 19:8, the laws that Moses gave to the Israelites were necessary because they were not ready to accept the full law as God intended.  In technical terms, the original Mosaic law can be thought of as the “beta” version of the law.  It contained many of the essential features but was not completely finished.  And so Jesus’ extensions completed the law as God always intended.

Whenever we feel like God has put a huge burden on our shoulders, let us remember the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery where Jesus took up His cross.  He suffered greatly and fell repeatedly under the crushing weight of the cross.  And yet, God gave Him the strength to get up and keep moving forward.  And although Jesus prayed that God would spare Him such an ordeal, God did not remove that challenge but instead gave Jesus the strength to endure it.  This rosary mystery should show us that we too can endure and ultimately triumph even when it seems like the challenge is too much.  Moses and Jesus did not give us these moral laws with the intent that we will ultimately fail to follow them.  Quite the opposite.  God gave us these laws because He knew we could handle them and that they would ultimately make us stronger in our faith.

Is living according to God’s laws challenging at times?  You bet!  But progress is never made when the road is easy.  Our relationship with God and each other are strengthened when we take up the challenge to live according to His laws.  Only when we take up our crosses and really make the conscious decision to live for Jesus can we truly say that we have a strong relationship with Him.  This idea of challenging ourselves reminds me of JFK’s famous speech about going to the moon.  We didn’t do it because it was easy, but because it was hard.  The same can be said about forging a relationship with Jesus Christ.  View this short video and replace “go to the moon” with “build a relationship with God” to see what I mean

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